The second Women’s March was last weekend. Which is, of course, not true. That it was THE SECOND, I mean. It was but one of thousands of marches by, about, and in defense and celebration of women, human rights, and justice, that span millennia.
But… It’s 2018 and everything has a brand now, so as far as THE (capital “the”) Women’s March goes, it was the second one.
I couldn’t make it this year, but I was at the one in 2017 with my wife Laura, our friend Zoe, Zoe’s mom, and Zoe’s little sister.
It was amazing.
Being on the streets of LA with hundreds of thousands of people, watching a 12-year-old little sister yell “My body, my choice!” was one of my favorite moments I’ve ever experienced.
Because … I am a #MeToo guy. Always have been. Long before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements came into fashion. I don’t say that with pride or ego. There’s nothing special about thinking that all people should be regarded with dignity, respect, and an equal chance at happiness. And it’s fucked up, in my mind, that when you’re a man who’s NOT an abuser of women, that anyone thinks you should get a cookie.
(There are also those guys who believe because they’re “good guys” and have a “moral center” as relates to women, that it will somehow help them get laid. It’s often an unconscious thought but is probably something they should take a look at.)
But as someone who lives and works in Hollywood, it also has created for me a heightened sensitivity to the issues that are currently so much on people’s minds. And given the medium in which I’m currently engaged – i.e. the writing of romance novels – I’ve had a handful of people (some friends, some not) ask me questions like, “Do you worry about what you’re writing now, particularly as relates to your long-time pro-feminist view of the world? Don’t you think it’s damaging to the cause of gender equality? What are the books like? Have you met any fans? What are they like?” And stuff like that. (Yes, I get that last one a lot. And yes, it definitely has a kind of, “You went on Safari and saw wild animals in their natural habitat? OMG, what was THAT like?” vibe to it.)
And look, they’re not invalid questions. You can’t know a thing until you know it. But, it should go without saying, the people who ask me most of these things are, by and large, typically not romance readers.
Which is okay. I wasn’t really a romance reader either. I mean I kind of was; if you paid me to read it aloud, into a microphone, under an assumed name. But as a rule, if you don’t read it regularly, you’re probably not going to understand it. Which is what leads to the perception that romance is one thing.
And that’s ridiculous. That’s like saying to someone, “Do you like eating rutabagas?” And having them say, “No, I hate them.” And when you ask, “Oh, so you’ve tried them?” They say, “No, but I don’t like asparagus.” And when you then ask, “What the fuck are you talking about?” They say, “They’re both vegetables.”
Not all vegetables are the same. And not all books are the same. And really, really not all romance books are the same. If you read romance, you already know this. But also if you read romance, you’ve probably encountered at least one or two people who make assumptions about you based on knowing JUST THAT. Which is, by definition … What are the words …? Oh, right. Absurd. And myopic. And annoying.
Because the thing is (as you know) there are as many different types of readers of romance as there are types of romance novels to read. Which leads to my next point:
What’s really, really struck me is not just the opinions that people tend to manufacture about the books themselves (having not read them), but also the impressions they form about the readers.
And then it struck me that it’s not even just the broad generalizing about romance readers specifically that gives me pause, but what that says about the broad generalizations that exist in our culture about women. They are latent, and they are pervasive, and they endure whether we are aware of it or not. I know. I’ve been as guilty of seeing women through a prism of my own making as anyone. (Hell, just the phrase, “I’ve been guilty of seeing women…” completely ignores the fact that “women” are not a monolithic “group.” Yeah, shit gets complicated.)
It’s a critical time for female/male relationships in America, and as a man writing romance novels with a woman, one of the things Julie and I are conscious of is how we can successfully engage in a male/female working relationship, based on mutual respect during discussions of intimate subjects, while at the same time maintaining and validating both of our strong personalities and world views. And because you, the readers, the consumers, the allies, are the reason the work exists, I wanted to take a second to offer my views on some misperceptions I’ve witnessed, and offer my rebuttal to certain flawed notions that I’ve already heard during my time in this world.
- Romance Novels are Silly/Frivolous/Offer an Unrealistic View of Relationships
To the idea that the books are silly or frivolous … that is a judgement and is in no way objectively arguable. It also has the more insidious implication that you, the romance readers, are less than serious consumers of art, and paints you all with the same, generalizing brush; failing to account for your distinct and individual points of view and experiences. Which is, as mentioned above, myopic. And, y’know, lame.
But more importantly, reading – as an activity, hobby, passion – is a chance to get lost in the forest of an author’s imagination. Novels should be an escape. A chance to be ferried away from life’s daily challenges. A voyage.
Julie has a Twitter follower who has graciously allowed me to use her description of herself in this piece. The short bio on her Twitter account reads: “Living with MS & have a daughter with autism. Romance novels are my temporary and enjoyable escape from reality.” There are a number of reasons I am writing Romance with JA Huss, but if those two sentences were all that compelled me, it would be reason enough.
- Romance Novels are Just Porn and Badly Written Excuses for Fiction
Sure. Sometimes. There are also bad doctors, lawyers, and accountants. But if you read a bad book you will likely not die, go to prison, or become bankrupt.
But the best versions of the genre could have all the sexy-times* taken out of them and there would still be a compelling story left to read. This is what Julie and I strive to do in our writing, and there are many other romance authors out there who toil away with the same goal. There will always be bad books, movies, TV shows, etc. It’s not endemic to romance. (Honestly, given how hard the creative process is, it’s a wonder anyone ever makes anything good.)
- Romance Novels are Anti-Feminist
And this is what started my entire thought process on this subject. Hell, it could be its own PhD thesis, and surely has been. So, I’ll simply present my take:
I feel like the widely held idea that the genre fails to promote feminist ideals, or worse, somehow denigrates women, is steeped in a latent, parochial perception of women as inherently non-sexual beings.
The time of women in romance novels as doe-eyed innocents who are coaxed from under a cloak of virginal naïveté by a dashing hero who teaches them the wonders of digital stimulation so that they can go get it on like a couple of incarcerated rabbits on conjugal visit day, is no longer the norm. The perception that it is, is the outmoded stereotype, not the books themselves.
Women are not children, and the best romance novels do not infantilize, they empower.
And, in my mind, when I now hear other feminists, like myself, suggesting that the whole romance novel industry promotes anything LESS THAN a full-throated celebration of women… That it somehow runs afoul of the guiding principles of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements because it frames sex and sexuality as something to be relished, and enjoyed, and exalted… That it assumes the women who read it are in some way giving up their agency as opposed to fucking OWNING it…
Well… That strikes me as not only simply flawed thinking, but also marginalizing, stereotyping, and dangerously close to being anti-feminist itself.
I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, and that in the broader world, encouraging someone to consider a topic in a way that they are not naturally inclined to consider it is a tall task requiring time and lots of nuanced conversation, but the next time I get into a chat with someone who looks at me askance when they find out what kind of novels I’m writing, I’m simply going to say this: “I hear you, but have you taken the time to actually savor a rutabaga? Because, my friend, if nothing else, it is the sexiest of the root vegetables.”
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